Is a Libyan Civil War Already Underway?

In a rambling address to the country last night, Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s son, Seif al Islam Qaddafi warned (promised?) a civil war if protesters were to end his father’s 40 year rule.  But there already several reports of armed protesters roaming the streets and heavily armed security forces shooting at them.  The protesters have apparently overtaken and/or destroyed several state facilities. In the meantime, groups like Human Rights Watch and others report that security forces have essentially been on a slaughter. At least 233 people have been killed–but that’s according to a day old Human Rights Watch report.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

Reports today from the capital, Tripoli, said police stations were burned, and there were unconfirmed reports that protesters had stormed the State Television building that broadcast Islam’s address. Al Jazeera Arabic reported that most of the police in Benghazi, a Mediterranean city to the east of Tripoli that has been the heart of the revolt, are now siding with the protesters.

“My sense that the regime’s willingness and eagerness to use not only extreme violence but all sorts of horrific tactics, shooting with the intent to kill, tricking people into a sense of safety and coming near the gates of buildings and then shooting them, hiring mercenaries to attack people and to go to protesters’ houses and damaging their property and so on … is working against it,” says Hisham Matar, a Libyan-American novelist in touch with people in Libya. His 2006 novel “In the Country of Men” was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

“There’s absolutely no turning back, is the sense that I’m getting,” he adds. “People have been provoked by the violence of the regime, crowned by that speech we all heard yesterday which seemed to take no responsibility for the killing.”

This all begs the question: could what we are seeing in Libya today be that civil war that fis Qaddafi promised?

UPDATE:  More evidence for my thesis that a civil war is already underway in Libya. From the New York Times:

By Monday afternoon, a witness saw armed militiamen firing on protesters who were clashing with riot police. As a group of protesters and the police faced off in a neighborhood near Green Square, in the center of the capital, ten or so Toyota pickup trucks carrying more than 20 men — many of them apparently from other African countries in mismatched fatigues — arrived at the scene.

Holding small automatic weapons, they started firing in the air, and then started firing at protesters, who scattered, the witness said. “It was an obscene amount of gunfire,” said the witness. “They were strafing these people. People were running in every direction.” The police stood by and watched, the witness said, as the militiamen, still shooting, chased after the protesters.

UPDATE II: “They were shooting the doctors and people at the hospital…They are just killing people in the street.” A phone call from Tripoli.